Past the Popcorn provides South King Media with exclusive reviews of Theatrical and Home Video entertainment. We aim to dig just a little deeper than the surface of what we watch.
In 1999, a young director named M. Night Shyamalan delivered one of the year’s biggest surprise hits with a creepy ghost story that featured one of cinema’s all-time great twist endings. The Sixth Sense became the year’s second highest grossing movie behind only the hotly anticipated Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace and it also earned six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director for Shyamalan. Magazine headlines called him “The Next Spielberg” and everyone was hotly anticipating his follow-up film. Unbreakable arrived just over a year later and it was not what anyone was expecting.
Audiences didn’t really know what to think about Unbreakable—a superhero movie disguised as a mystery—when it was first released. It earned far less money at the box office than its predecessor and was a non-factor when it came to that year’s Academy Awards. The movie was ahead of its time and essentially predicted the superhero movie craze that would kick into full gear two years later with the release of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man movie—a craze we are still caught up in today. As time went on, Unbreakable came to be appreciated as one of Shyamalan’s best movies, if not the best. Fans have been hoping for a sequel to the movie that Shyamalan himself had said he hoped would be the first film of a trilogy; and at the end of the director’s 2016 hit film Split, fans were delighted by the reveal that the movie took place in the Unbreakable universe. A sequel was quickly announced and here we are, more than eighteen years later, with Glass, the long-awaited continuation of the Unbreakable story.
Glass picks up shortly after the end of Split. James McAvoy’s Kevin Wendell Crumb, the man with dissociative identity disorder who kidnaps and kills young women, has himself four new hostages. Among those searching for them is Bruce Willis’ David Dunn, who has been working the streets as a superpowered vigilante since embracing his abilities at the end of Unbreakable. With the help of his son, Dunn finds the women, frees them, and confronts Crumb’s deadliest persona: the beast. Before their confrontation can reach a conclusion, though, the pair are surrounded by the police, taken into custody, and placed in cells specifically designed to counter their abilities at a nearby psychiatric hospital.
Already in residence at this hospital is Samuel L. Jackson’s Elijah Price, aka Mr. Glass, the man who orchestrated three terrorist attacks in Unbreakable all to find Dunn’s unbreakable man. The three men are kept in their own separate wing under the control of Dr. Ellie Staple, a woman who believes that she has the cure for their delusions of superhuman grandeur. Dr. Staple has committed the cardinal comic book sin, however, of underestimating the criminal mastermind. Mr. Glass soon orchestrates the escape of all three men, determined for them to have a showdown in the most public venue possible.
As nice as it is to see Jackson and Willis returning to their roles from Unbreakable, the movie is stolen out from under them by James McAvoy. McAvoy’s performance in Split was the highlight of that movie, even if the movie felt like it failed to deliver on its promise of the man with 24 distinct personalities. But Glass delivers on that promise in a very big way, allowing McAvoy to play about three times as many personalities as he did in the previous movie, often bouncing from one to another in rapid succession. It is a marvel of acting, a performance that deserves to be in next year’s Oscar conversation, which unfortunately is extremely unlikely given the movie’s early release date and genre.
Samuel L. Jackson is also great in a role that is perfectly designed to allow him every opportunity to chew the scenery in ways only Jackson can. Willis is fine as Dunn, but his role is so much dramatically less showy than his counterparts that he kind of gets lost in the shuffle. Finally, Sarah Paulson makes for a good foil as Dr. Staple.
The performances of the four leads are the highlight of Glass, but beyond those performances the movie gets a little shaky. For every gorgeously set up and colorfully interesting visual in the film, there is an equally confounding decision to film some of the action scenes with what appears to be a GoPro. During one of the action scenes, it felt as if Bruce Willis was photographing the action himself using a selfie stick. It is distracting and really takes you out of the moment.
The movie’s storyline, though intriguing throughout its first half, gets a little lost in its own attempts to be clever in the film’s final act. With some distance from the film, it is possible to see what Shyamalan was going for, but in the moment it was a challenge to keep track of the details. Shyamalan is known for his plot twists and this movie definitely tries to play with our expectations, but it felt more like we were just having the rug pulled out from under us rather than having our minds blown by a master storyteller’s sleight of hand.
The final act feels a little messy, but then again, maybe Glass, like Unbreakable, is just ahead of its time. The thing with movies that are ahead of their time is that it is near impossible to see that in the moment, but hopefully in another eighteen years this movie is looked on as fondly as its predecessor. But even if it doesn’t, we’ll always have Unbreakable.
Glass opens today at the AMC Southcenter 16, the AMC Kent Station 14, the Century Federal Way, and Regal’s Stadium Landing 14 in Renton.